Melissa McShane's Reviews > Crown Duel

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1329059
's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, fantasy, young-adult-fantasy, own, emotional-overload

Jacob pointed out that there are spoilers in this, and rather than locate them all, or put the whole thing behind a spoiler tag (it's not that bad) I'm going to post this warning. Read the book first. You should probably do that anyway.

***

I dove into this yesterday evening and emerged, satisfied, some hours later, after which I spent more hours thinking and replaying parts in my head, because that is what I do when I don’t quite want to let go of a book. I read this first in two parts, back in 1999 or 2000, and (thanks to Hallie, who is obsessive sometimes) I know I went out and paid good money to own the pair immediately afterward. And yet I find I can’t go back to it very often; I am overwhelmed by how very much I identify with Meliara and how caught up I am in her trials, whether she’s running from the evil king’s minions or trying to negotiate her way through a court that is utterly alien to her. Now I’ve read the e-book version available from Book View Café, with all the extra bits from Vidanric’s point of view—but more about that later.

The first thing that always strikes me is the depth of this world and the constant sense that there are so many more countries out there in it, going about their business and only peripherally brushing up against Mel’s country Remalna. They don’t matter to this story, but they could, because they all have histories that interconnect, and I like that in a secondary world fantasy. What occurred to me this time, and I’m not sure if I should be kicking myself for not noticing this before, is that it’s the world itself, in the person of the Hill Folk, that comes to the rescue both in Crown Duel and Court Duel. And the reason I think I should be kicking myself is that Mel’s opening explanation of the Covenant and the Fire Sticks and the Hill Folk acts as a sort of warning, advance notice of what’s coming later: This is Important. It’s not just important for our ability to understand the world (and I can’t even call this infodumping, it’s done so well) but as a reminder that in Remalna, there’s an underlying magic that has nothing to do with humans, and yet in these two instances, that magic takes a powerful interest in what humans do. So why am I not shouting deus ex machina? Because these endings, the Hill Folk making arrows sprout like branches, the Hill Folk taking a hand to end a threat to themselves and the land, come as the direct result of action by humans—not just Mel, but everyone who’s involved in reclaiming Remalna from the corruption that’s been eating at its heart for however long Galdran and his family were in power. One small way this is evident to me is the final end of the Duke of Grumareth, turned to stone by Flauvic and then shattered, who should have returned to bloody flesh and was transformed instead into clear stones. The Hill Folk might have acted out of self-interest, but they pay attention to humans as well.

And what humans they are. I am endlessly fascinated by how the characters in this book, even the minor ones, fairly burst with personality. Nessaren, for one—we can never have too many woman warriors who are convincing in the role. Meliara’s “flirts” (only one of them, I think, is sincere), particularly Savona, who’s charming but obviously not interested in more than that superficial flirtation; I liked seeing him in one of the Vidanric stories at the end, the poor man. His relationship with Tamara is another delight, since I don’t think either of them really knows what he or she wants, which means I don’t know what to wish for; you’d think that would be distressing, but for me it’s part of what makes them both human and therefore complicated. The people Mel encounters in her desperate attempts to stay ahead of Galdran’s men, all of them as generous as they’re able to be. Then Bran and Nee—I have trouble loving Bran, who seems cursed to always say the wrong thing to his sensitive sister, but Nee makes a good contrast to Mel and a good confidante. And the villains—all the Merindars, who are each evil in their own special way, and Debegri, who is refreshingly simple in his straightforward, uncomplicated love of hurting others. I love that they are all so memorable. I love that each has a part to play in the bigger story.

That story, of course, is Meliara’s—and Vidanric’s, because from the moment she’s pulled out of that trap on the mountain, their stories are intertwined. Their first meeting is under such conditions that Mel can’t trust him, which is natural, but that lack of trust combined with several near-fatal misunderstandings puts her in a position where she cannot bring herself to trust him, even when her mistakes are pointed out to her. Because at this point, it’s not about trust; how can you forgive someone for having seen you at your worst, humiliated, ignorant, constantly doing the wrong thing, whose very presence is a reminder of all those failures? Mel never sees herself the way others do, as a hero, mainly because she knows whatever successes she’s had have been ones she’s stumbled into, and although I feel tremendous empathy for Mel, it’s Vidanric I feel sorry for: in love with someone who hates the sight of him, unable to correct for those original misunderstandings, filled with admiration for someone who doesn’t know how powerful she is. My favorite of the Vidanric stories is the episode with the candlestick. Seeing that from both sides was just marvelous—Vidanric from Mel’s perspective is cool, aloof, always in control (he did catch that candlestick!), but inside his head he’s going over how he’s going to do everything right so she’ll stop hating him just a little bit. And he gets everything wrong. If I didn’t love him before, I did at that moment.

The plot is about reclaiming a kingdom, told from Mel’s perspective, but there’s also so much going on behind the scenes, as is evident in the Vidanric extras at the end of the new edition. I like the depth of plot enough that those stories, instead of annoying me, gave me glimpses of what the story would have been like as a political thriller instead of an adventure-romance. (There was a chance I’d be annoyed by them because Vidanric is such a good Mysterious Stranger, and seeing through his eyes might diminish that aspect of the romance. I probably shouldn’t have been worried.) I’m not going to go to the lengths of wishing for a second version of the whole novel from Vidanric’s perspective, but I wouldn’t be sad to see one. Because, really, I like seeing the plot through Meliara’s eyes. I like that even though her initial beliefs are shaped by what her father has and hasn’t taught her (and I think he’s a candidate for Worst Parent Ever) she’s able to winnow out what’s true about her ideals from the chaff of ignorance surrounding them. I like that she’s able to overcome her humiliation to become humble enough to apologize to Vidanric. And I like that who she is, at heart, gives shape to the story.

According to my records, it’s been almost ten years since I last read Crown Duel. I wonder if it will be another ten years before I read it again? Maybe. But I think it is the rare book that stays with me so profoundly that it feels like those ten years were nothing. So I’m going to give it to my daughter now, and I hope she loves it like I do.
7 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Crown Duel.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 24, 2014 – Finished Reading
March 25, 2014 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Hallie Melisssaaa, it was 2000. ("Sometimes"?!)

Love - love your review.

- The "This Is Important" part - yes, you're so right, and yet it doesn't matter at all that it recedes into the background because we're so engaged with Mel and all the people she encounters, right until the end when it resurfaces as vital. In part, I think it doesn't matter because what Mel herself is engaged in throughout is solidly grounded in the need to prevent the Covenant's being broken. Lovely circularity there.

- That glimpse of the unexpected complexity of Savona's relationship with Tamara was exactly why I said I wanted to see more of him. (His hilarious and merciless laughing at Vidanric aside.)

- My already tender(ised) heart would have been further damaged if you hadn't loved the candlestick story as much as I did. :)

- Interesting about Vidanric as Mysterious Stranger and the stories as political intrigue. Have you read A Stranger To Command? (I highly recommend it, if not!)

- Bran as cursed... hmmm. It's an odd curse, the lack of desire to get your (emotionally) lazy head out of your backside and think about how you're hurting others! I find him hard to love too, and yet completely understand that Mel does. It's also interesting to see the friendship between Bran and Vidanric a little bit from Vidanric's side and get a clearer view of what he might appreciate in Bran, isn't it?

And I like that who she is, at heart, gives shape to the story.

Exactly.


Jacob Proffitt Hallie wrote: "- Interesting about Vidanric as Mysterious Stranger and the stories as political intrigue. Have you read A Stranger To Command? (I highly recommend it, if not!)"

Book View Café, here I come...


Melissa McShane Jacob wrote: "Book View Café, here I come..."

Thank you for staying on top of this, dear. :)


message 4: by Melissa (last edited Mar 26, 2014 01:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Melissa McShane Hallie wrote: "Melisssaaa, it was 2000. ("Sometimes"?!)"

I was trying to be generous. :)


"It's also interesting to see the friendship between Bran and Vidanric a little bit from Vidanric's side and get a clearer view of what he might appreciate in Bran, isn't it?"

I like seeing what other people see in Bran because he annoys me a little. On the one hand, he's this really nice, really easygoing guy--I get why Nee fell in love with him. On the other hand, all the way through Crown Duel he is constantly saying the wrong thing to Mel at exactly the wrong time. Cursed, because in a way he and his sister ought to complement each other, and I think they both fail at that even though they love each other. But then there are times when he is the brother she needs, like when she refuses an alliance with the Renselaeuses and he just doesn't understand, but he goes along with her. He should have pushed the issue, but that's not who he is. And he's a great character even when he annoys me.


Melissa McShane Hallie wrote: "My already tender(ised) heart would have been further damaged if you hadn't loved the candlestick story as much as I did. :)"

I KNOW, RIGHT?!? There are no words.


Hallie Jacob wrote: "Book View Café, here I come..."

Yesterday was a very good day in book-lover terms! :) (This, Anna planning to buy the C&C Duel ebook, Melissa's review, my favoured book winning its round 3 match...)

I was - not reluctant, exactly - but maybe a bit dubious about reading Vidanric before Crown Duel. Not that the romance is ALL the wonderfulness of the Duel books, by any means, but it is so wonderful. I ended up loving it though, and found it extremely satisfying. Hope you do too!


Hallie Melissa wrote: "Hallie wrote: "Melisssaaa, it was 2000. ("Sometimes"?!)"

I was trying to be generous. :)


I appreciate the attempt. :)


"I like seeing what other people see in Bran because he annoys me a little. On the one hand, he's this really nice, really easygoing guy--I get why Nee fell in love with him."

Yes, I do too, but it's harder unless I think about it from the perspective of Nee's history, because she's so considerate and sensitive to the feelings of others herself. I can truly imagine how safe it would make her feel to be with someone honest, straightforward, incapable of hiding his emotions even if he wanted to, though. That little bit of back-story about how the whole of Vidanric's generation was in court to be hostages and how they learned to be because of it is just perfect. It's actually a nice layer to the parallel between Mel's past and Vidanric's, and how it fits in with the strong world-building, isn't it? I also loved the quiet comment from Vidanric's father (in the CANDLESTICK story!) about how they'd always seen the risk of his pretending to be just another selfish, spoiled court dandy. Much as I love Vidanric's parents, there was a large cost to him for taking on their goals, though they were hugely better parents than Mel's father, of course.

[re the candlestick story] I KNOW, RIGHT?!? There are no words.


When you say there are no words, it's really saying something! :)


Melissa McShane Hallie: "I can truly imagine how safe it would make her (Nee) feel to be with someone honest, straightforward, incapable of hiding his emotions even if he wanted to."

I actually hadn't thought of that, but you're right. And I appreciated getting Vidanric's POV on that subject. I think that was the point where I most wished to have the alternate-universe novel about that side of the story.

"When you say there are no words, it's really saying something! :) "

Or I used them all up in that review. :)


back to top